This section of the FAQ gives a short overview of the Makhnovists from July 1918 (when Makhno returned to the Ukraine) and August 1921, when it was finally defeated by Bolshevik armed force. It will be primarily a military history, with the socio-political aspects of the movement discussed in sections H.6.6 (its theory) and H.6.7 (its practice). For details of the rise of influence of Makhno after his release from prison in 1917, see section H.6.1.
The history of the Makhno movement can be broken up into roughly four periods -- from July 1918 to February 1919, then the rest of 1919, then January to October 1920 and, finally, from October 1920 to August 1921. This section will give an overview of each period in turn.
By the time Makhno arrived back in the Ukraine in July, 1918, opposition to the German-backed Hetman's regime was mounting and was frequently met with brutal repression, including reprisal executions. Makhno was forced to live underground and on the move, secretly meeting with others, with the Austrians always close behind. Voline recounts Makhno's activities at this time:
"Back in Hulyai Pole, Makhno came to the decision to die or obtain victory for the peasants . . . He did not delay starting his mission openly among the great masses of peasants, speaking at improvised meetings, writing and distributing letters and tracts. By pen and mouth, he called on the peasants for a decisive struggle against the power of Skoropadsky and the landlords. He declared tirelessly that the workers should now take their fates into their own hands and not let their freedom to act be taken from them . . .
Besides his appeals, Makhno proceeded immediately to direct action. His first concern was to form a revolutionary military unit, sufficiently strong to guarantee freedom of propaganda and action in the villages and towns and at the same time to begin guerrilla operations. This unit was quickly organised .. . .
His first unit undertook two urgent tasks, namely, pursuing energetically the work of propaganda and organisation among the peasants and carrying out a stubborn armed struggle against all their enemies. The guiding principle of this merciless struggle was as follows. No lord who persecuted the peasants, no policeman of the Hetman, no Russian or German officer who was an implacable enemy of the peasants, deserved any pity; he must be destroyed. All who participated in the oppression of the poor peasants and workers, all who sought to suppress their rights, to exploit their labour, should be executed.
Within two or three weeks, the unit had already become the terror, not only of the local bourgeoisie, but also of the Austro-German authorities." [The Unknown Revolution, p. 558]
The night of 26 September saw Hulyai Pole briefly liberated from Hetman and Austrian troops by the actions of Makhno's troops in association with local people. On the retreat from this Makhno's small band grew when he met the partisan troops headed by Shchus. When the Austrians cornered them, they launched a surprise counter attack and routed the opposition. This became known as the battle of Dibrivki and it is from this date, 5 October 1918 that Makhno is given the nickname 'Batko', meaning "father" (see section H.6.3 for details). For the next two months already- existing partisan groups sought out and joined the growing army.
In this period, Makhno, with portable printing equipment, was raiding the occupying garrisons and troop trains in the Southern Ukraine. Normal practice was to execute the officers and free the troops. In this period the moral of the occupying troops had crumbled and revolutionary propaganda had made inroads into many units. This was also affecting the nationalist troops and on 20 November the first nationalist unit defected to the Makhnovists. This encouraged them to return to Hulyai Pole on 27 December and there the insurrectionary Staff was formed, this body was to lead the army in the coming years and consisted initially of four old and trusted friends and three political comrades. The Makhnovist presence allowed the setting up of a local soviet and the re-opening of the anarchist clubs. German forces started pulling back to the major cities and on December 14 the Hetman fled Kiyiv. In the resulting vacuum, the Makhnovists rapidly expanded taking in most of the South East Ukraine and setting up fronts against local whites. The Ukrainian nationalists had taken power in the rest of the Ukraine under Petliura and on the 15th December the Makhnovists agreed to make common cause with them against the Whites. In return for arms and ammunition they allowed the nationalists to mobilise in the Makhnovist area (while engaging in propaganda directed at the mobilised troops on their way by train to Katerynoslav).
This was a temporary and pragmatic arrangement directed against the greater enemy of the Whites. However, the nationalists were no friends of working-class autonomy. The nationalists banned elections to the Katerynoslav soviet on 6th of December and the provincial soviet at Kharkiv meet with a similar fate on the 22nd. [Malet, Op. Cit., p. 22] At the same time as their agreement with the nationalists, the Makhnovista had set up links with Bolshevik partisans to the south and before dawn on the 26th the Bolshevik and Makhnovista forces launched a joint attack on the nationalists at Katerynoslav. The city was taken but held only briefly when a nationalist attack on the 29th drove out all the insurgent forces with heavy losses. In the south, White reinforcements led to the insurgents being pushed North and losing Hulyai Pole.
1919 opened with the Makhnovists organising a congress of front- unit delegates to discuss the progress of the struggle. Over forty delegates attended and a committee of five was elected, along with an operational staff to take charge of the southern front and its rear. It was agreed that local soviets were to be supported in every way, with no military violence directed towards them permitted. [Malet, Op. Cit., p. 25]
By the end of January, white reinforcements were landing in the ports of the south. On January 22nd, a worker, peasant and insurgent congress was held at Velyka Mykhailivka. A resolution was passed urging an end to conflict between Makhnovists, Nationalists and Bolsheviks. An alliance was signed between the Makhnovists and the Bolsheviks in early February. This agreement ensured that the Partisan units entered the Red Army as distinct formations, with their internal organisation (including the election of commanders) intact, and the Red Army in the area formed a brigade to be known as "the third Transdnieper Batko Makhno brigade" with Makhno as commander. The Whites were repulsed and Hulyai Pole retaken and the front pushed some distance eastwards.
Thus the military situation had improved by the time of the second worker, peasant and insurgent congress held at Hulyai Pole on February 12th. This congress set up a "Revolutionary Military Soviet" to co-ordinate civilian affairs and execute its decisions. The congress resolved that "the land belongs to nobody" and should be cultivated without the use of hired labour. It also accepted a resolution opposing anti-Jewish pogroms. Also passed was a resolution which sharply attacked the Bolsheviks, caused by their behaviour since their arrival in the Ukraine. [Palij, Op. Cit., pp. 154-5] A report by the commander of the 2nd Red Army, Skatchco, indicates the nature of this behaviour:
"Little local Chekas are undertaking a relentless campaign against the Makhnovists, even when they are shedding their blood at the front. They are hunting them down from the rear and persecuting them solely for belonging to the Makhnovist movement . . . It cannot continue like this: the activity of the local Chekas is deliberately ruining the front, reducing all military successes to nothing, and contributing to the creation of a counter-revolution that neither Denikin nor Krasnov [Hetman of the Don Cossacks] could have achieved. . ." [quoted by Alexander Skirda, The Rehabilitation of Makhno, p. 346]
Unsurprisingly, the peasants reacted strongly to the Bolshevik regime. Their "agricultural policy and terrorism" ensured that "by the middle of 1919, all peasants, rich and poor, distrusted the Bolsheviks." [Palij, Op. Cit., p. 156] In April alone, there were 93 separate armed rebellions against the Bolsheviks in the Ukraine. The "more oppressive the Bolshevik policy, the more the peasants supported Makhno. Consequently, the Bolsheviks began to organise more systematically against the Makhno movement, both as an ideology and as a social movement." [Palij, Op. Cit., p. 157]
In mid-March the Red Army attacked eastwards. In the course of this Dybenko, commander of the Trandneiper division, recommended one of Makhno's commanders for a medal. Then the Makhnovists attacked the Donbas (east) to relieve the pressure on the Soviet 8th Army caused by a White advance. They took Mariupol following a White incursion at the beginning of April. A White counter-offensive resulted in the Red 9th division panicking, allowing the Whites into Makhno's rear. Red Commander Dybenko refused orders to come to the Makhnovists aid as he was more interested in the Crimea (south). [Malet, Op. Cit., p. 31]
This period saw the most sustained freedom for the region around Hulyai Pole. It had been free of enemy occupation since January, allowing constructive activity to restart. The inhabitants of the free region "created new forms of social organisation: free workers' communes and Soviets." [Voline, Op. Cit., p. 574] The Revolutionary Military Soviet (RMS) called a third regional worker, peasant and insurgent congresses had on April 10th to review progress and to look forward. This was the largest congress to date, with delegates from 72 volosts containing two million people. The Bolshevik military commander Dybenko tried to ban it. The Makhnovists, needless to say, ignored him and the RMS made a famous reply to his arrogance (see section H.6.13 for more details).
It was during this period (late 1918 and early 1919), that the Nabat anarchist federation was organised. "Anarchist influence was reported from Aleksandrovsk and other centres," notes David Footman, "Anarchists were holding a conference in Kursk at about the same time and in one of their resolutions it was stated that 'the Ukrainian Revolution will have great chances of rapidly becoming Anarchist in its ideas.' The position called for renewed Bolshevik measures against the Anarchists. Nabat, the main Anarchist newspaper in the Ukraine, was suppressed, and its editorial board dispersed under threat of arrest." [Op. Cit., p. 270] Daniel Guerin has reproduced two documents from the Nabat federation in volume II of his No Gods, No Masters.
The anarchist influence in and around Hulyai Pole also worried the Bolsheviks. They started a slander campaign against the Makhnovists, to the alarm of Antonov, the overall front commander, who replied in response to an article in Kharkiv Izvestiya:
"The article is the most perverted fiction and does not in the least correspond to the existing situation. The insurgents fighting the whites are on a level with the Red Army men, but are in a far worse condition for supplies." [quoted by Malet, Op. Cit., p. 33]
In a postscript, Antonov added that the press campaign had certainly helped turn Makhno anti-Soviet (i.e. anti-Bolshevik, as Makhno supported free soviets).
At the beginning of May, another partisan commander, Hryhoriyiv, revolted against the Bolsheviks in the central Ukraine. Hryhoriyiv, like the Makhnovists, had joined with the Bolsheviks when they had re-entered the Ukraine, however his social and political background was totally different. Hryhoriyiv was a former Tsarist officer, who had commanded numerous troops under the Petliurist authority and joined the Bolsheviks once that that regime's armed forces had disintegrated. Arshinov notes that he had "never been a revolutionary" and that there had been a "great deal of adventurism in his joining the ranks of the Petliurists and then the ranks of the Red Army." His temperament was mixed, consisting of "a certain amount of sympathy for oppressed peasants, authoritarianism, the extravagance of a Cossack chieftain, nationalist sentiments and anti-Semitism." [Op. Cit., p. 110]
Hryhoriyov started his revolt by issuing a Universal, or declaration to the Ukrainian people, which contained a virulent attack on the Bolsheviks as well as one explicit anti-Semitic reference, but without mention of Makhno. The height of the revolt was his appearance in the suburbs of Katerynoslav, which he was stopped from taking. He started a pogrom in Yelyzavethrad which claimed three thousand victims.
Once the Makhnovists had been informed of this rebellion, an enlarged staff and RMS meeting was held. A telegram was sent to the soldiers at the front urging them to hold the front and another to the Bolsheviks with a similar message. A few days latter, when more information had been received, a proclamation was issued against Hyyhoriyiv attacking him for seeking to impose a new authority on the working class, for encouraging toiling people to attack each other, and for inciting pogroms. [Arshinov, Op. Cit., p. 112 and pp. 114-7]
While it took a fortnight for Red forces to contain Hryhoriyiv without trouble, this involved using all available reverses of all three Ukrainian armies. This left none for Makhno's hard-pressed forces at the front. In addition, Dybenko withdrew a front-line regiment from Makhno for use against the revolt and diverted reinforcements from the Crimea which were intended for Makhno. Despite this Makhnos forces (now numbering 20,000) were ordered to resume the attack on the whites. This was due to "unremitting pressure from Moscow to take Taganrog and Rostov." [Malet, Op. Cit., p. 36] The Makhnovist advance stopped due to the non-fulfilment of an urgent order for ammunition.
On the 19th of May, a White counter-attack not only stopped the advance of the Red Army, it forced the 9th division (and then the Makhnovists) to retreat. On the 29th, the Whites launched a further offensive against the northern Donblas, opening a gap between the 13th and 8th Red Armies. Due to the gravity of the situation, the RSV summoned a fourth congress for June 15th. Trotsky not only banned this congress but took the lead in slandering the Makhnovists and calling for their elimination (see section H.6.13 for details). As well as "this deliberately false agitational campaign, the [Bolshevik] blockade of the region was carried to the limit . . . The provisioning of shells, cartridges and other indispensable equipment which was used by daily at the front, ceased completely." [Arshinov, Op. Cit., p. 118] Palij confirms this, noting that "the supplies of arms and other war material to Makhno was stopped, thus weakening the Makhno forces vis-a-vis the Denikin troops." [Op. Cit., p. 175] David Footman also notes that the Bolshevik "hold-back of supplies for the Insurgents developed into a blockade of the area. Makhnovite units at the front ran short of ammunition." He also mentions that "[i]n the latter part of May the Cheka sent over two agents to assassinate Makhno." [Civil War in Russia, p. 271]
Needless to say, Trotsky blamed this White success to the Makhnovists, arguing it was retreating constantly before even the slightest attack by the Whites. However, this was not the case. Analysing these events in July 1919, Antonov (the commander of the Southern Front before Trotsky replaced him) wrote:
"Above all, the facts witness that the affirmations about the weakness of the most contaminated region -- that from Hulyai Pole to Berdiansk -- are without foundation . . . It is not because we ourselves have been better organised militarily, but because those troops were directly defending their native place . . . Makhno stayed at the front, in spite of the flight of the neighbouring 9th division, following by the whole of the 13th army . . . The reasons for the defeat on the southern front do not rest at all in the existence of 'Ukrainian partisans' . . . above all it must be attributed to the machinery of the southern front, in not keeping its fighting spirit and reinforcing its revolutionary discipline." [quoted by Alexander Skirda, The Rehabilitation of Makhno, p. 348]
This, incidentally, tallies with Arshinov's account that "hordes of Cossacks had overrun the region, not through the insurrectionary front but from the left flank where the Red Army was stationed." [Op. Cit., p. 126] For what it is worth, General Denikin himself concurs with this account of events, noting that by the 4th of June his forces "repulsed the routed and demoralised contingents of the Eight and Thirteenth Soviet Armies . . . The resistance of the Thirteenth Army being completely broken." He notes that an attempt by the Fourteenth Army (which Makhno's troops were part of) to attack on the flank came to nothing. He only mentions Makhno when he recounts that "General Shkuro's division routed Makhno at Hulyai Pole." [The White Armies, p. 272] With Whites broken through on their flank and with limited ammunition and other supplies (thanks to the Bolsheviks), the Makhnovists had no choice but to retreat.
It was around this time that Trotsky, in a public meeting in Kharkov, "announced that it were better to permit the Whites to remain in the Ukraine than to suffer Makhno. The presence of the Whites, he said, would influence the Ukrainian peasantry in favour of the Soviet Government, whereas Makhno and his povstantsi, would never make peace with the Bolsheviki; they would attempt to possess themselves of some territory and to practise their ideas, which would be a constant menace to the Communist Government." [Emma Goldman, My Disillusionment in Russia, p. 63]
Due to this Bolshevik betrayal, the Makhnovist sector was in very grave danger. At Hulyai Pole, a peasant regiment was scraped together in 24 hours in an attempt to save the town. It encountered White Cossacks ten miles away from the town and was mown down. The Whites entered Hulyai Pole the next day (June 6th) and gave it a good going over. On the same day, the Bolsheviks issued an order for Makhno's arrest. Makhno was warned and put in his resignation, arguing that it was "an inviolable right of the workers and peasants, a right won by the revolution, to call congresses on their own account, to discuss their affairs." Combined with the "hostile attitude" of the Bolshevik authorities towards him, which would lead "unavoidably to the creation of a special internal front," Makhno believed it was his duty to do what he could to avert it, and so he left his post. [quoted by Arshinov, Op. Cit., p. 129] While Makhno escaped, his staff was not so lucky. Five of them were arrested the same day and shot as a result of Trotsky's order to ban the fourth congress.
Leaving his troops in the frontline, Makhno left with a small cavalry detachment. While leaving the rest under Red command, Makhno made a secret agreement with his regimental commanders to await a message from him to leave the Red Army and join up against with the partisans. On the 9th and 10th of June, Hulyai Pole was retaken by Bolshevik forces, who took the opportunity to attack and sack the Makhnovist communes. [Arshinov, Op. Cit., p. 86f]
After intense fighting, the Whites finally split the Southern Front into three on June 21st. Needless to say, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks blamed this on the partisan forces (even stating that they had "opened the front" to the Whites). This was nonsense, as noted above.
After leaving the front, Makhno took refuge in the Chorno-Znamenski forest before continuing the retreat north and skirmishing with Red Army units. This brought him into the territory held by Hryhoriyiv and this, in turn, meant they had to proceed carefully. While the Makhnovists had made a public denunciation of Hryhoriyiv, Makhno was approaching the centre of Hryhoriyov's remaining influence. Surrounded by enemies, Makhno had little choice but to begin discussions with Hryhoriyiv. This was problematic to say the least. Hryhoriyiv's revolt had been tinged with anti-Semitism and had seen at least one major pogrom. Being faced with Hryhoriyov's anti-Semitism and his proposal for an alliance with the Whites against the Reds led the Makhnovists to plot his downfall at a meeting planned for the 27th July.
This meeting had originally been called to discuss the current tasks of the insurgents in the Ukraine and was attended by nearly 20,000 insurgents and local peasants. Hryhoriyiv spoke first, arguing that the most urgent task was to chase out the Bolsheviks and that they should ally themselves with any anti-Red forces available (a clear reference to the Whites under Denikin). The Makhnovist Chubenko spoke next, declaring that the "struggle against the Bolsheviks could be revolutionary only if it were carried out in the name of the social revolution. An alliance with the worst enemies of the people -- with generals -- could only be a counter-revolutionary and criminal adventure." Following him, Makhno "demanded before the entire congress" that Hryhoriyiv "immediately answer for the appalling pogrom of Jews he had organised in Elisavetgrad in May, 1919, as well as other anti-Semitic actions." [Arshinov, Op. Cit., p. 136]
Seeing that things were going badly, Hryhoriyiv went for his revolver, but was shot by a Makhnovist. Makhno finished him off. Makhnovist guards disarmed the leading Hryhoriyivists. Then Makhno, Chubenko and others justified the killing before the mass meeting, which approved the act passing a resolution that stated that Hryhoriyiv's death was "an historical and necessary fact, for his policy, acts and aims were counter-revolutionary and mainly directed to helping Denikin and other counter-revolutionaries, as is proved by his Jewish pogroms." [quoted by Malet, Op. Cit., p. 42] The troops under Hryhoriyiv became part of the general Insurrectionary Army.
At the end of July, Makhno recalled the troops he had earlier left in the Red Army and by mid-August the forces met up, becoming an army of some 15,000. At Mykolaiv, the Red Army units were defecting to Makhno in large numbers due in part to the feeling that the Red Army were abandoning the defence of the Ukraine. This was the start of Denikin's massive push north and Petliura's push east. By the end of August, Makhno felt strong enough to go on the offensive against the Whites. Superior White forces pushed the Makhnovists further and further west, away from their home region. "Denikin," in Voline's words, "not only made war on the army as such, but also on the whole peasant population. In addition to the usual persecutions and beatings, the villages he occupied were burnt and wrecked. The greater part of the peasants' dwellings were looted and wrecked. Hundreds of peasants were shot. The women maltreated, and nearly all the Jewish women . . . were raped." This repression "obliged the inhabitants of the villages threatened by the approach of the Denikinists to abandon their hearths and flee. Thus the Makhnovist army was joined and followed in their retreat by thousands of peaant families in flight from their homes with their livestock and belongings. It was a veritable migration. An enormous mass of men, women and children trailed after the army in its slow retreat towards the west, a retreat which gradually extended over hundreds of kilometres." [Op. Cit., p. 607]
Meeting the Nationalists in mid-September, it was agreed on both sides that fighting would only aid the Whites and so the Makhnovists entered a non-aggression pact with Petliura. This enabled them to offload over 1,000 wounded. The Makhnovists continued their propaganda campaign against the Nationalists, however. By the 24th of September, intelligence reports suggested that White forces had appeared to the west of their current position (i.e. where the Nationalists where). The Makhnovists concluded that the only way this could have happened was if the Nationalists had allowed the Whites to cross their territory (the Nationalists disputed this, pointing to the fighting that had started two days before between them and the Whites).
This meant that the Makhnovists were forced to fight the numerically superior Whites. After two days of desperate fighting, the Whites were routed and two regiments were destroyed at the battle of Peregonovka village. Makhno's forces then conducted an incredibly rapid advance in three directions helped by their mobile cart-transported infantry, in three days smashing three reserve regiments and at the greatest point advancing 235 miles east. On the 6th October a drive to the south started which took key White ports and captured a huge quantity of equipment including 600 trucks of British-supplied ammunition and an aeroplane. This was disastrous for Denikin whose forces had reached the northernmost point on their advance on Moscow, for these ports were key for his supply routes. The advance continued, cutting the railway route and so stopping all shells reaching Denikin's Moscow front.
Denikin was forced to send some of his best troops from the Moscow front to drive back the Makhnovists and British boats were sent to towns on the coast where Makhno might retreat through. The key city of Katerinoslav was taken with the aid of a workers' uprising on November 9th and held for a month before the advancing Whites and a typhoid epidemic which was to devastate the Makhnovista ranks by the end of the year forced them out of the city. In December, the Red Army advance made possible by Makhno's devastation of Denikin's supply lines continued.
"It is necessary to emphasise here the historic fact that the honour of having annihilated the Denikinist counter-revolution in the autumn of 1919, belongs entirely to the Makhnovist Insurrectionary Army. If the insurgents had not won the decisive victory of Peregonovka, and had not continued to sap the bases in Denikin's rear, destroying his supply service for artillery, food and ammunition, the Whites would probably have entered Moscow in December 1919 at the latest." [Op. Cit., p. 625]
In December the Red Army advance made possible by Makhno's devastation of Denikin's supply lines continued. By early January the Reds had split White forces into three and their troops had reached Katerynoslav. The attitude of the Bolsheviks to the Makhnovists had already been decided. On December 12th, 1919, Trotsky stated that when the two forces met, the Bolsheviks had "an order . . . from which we must not retreat one single step." While we discuss this secret order in more depth in section H.6.13, we will note here that it gave partisans the option of becoming "fully subordinate to [Bolshevik] command" or "be subjected to ruthless punishment." [How the Revolution Armed, vol. II., pp. 110-1 and p. 442] Another secret order to the 45th division issued on January 4th instructed them to "annihilate Makhnovist bands" and "disarm the population." The 41st was sent "into reserve" to the Hulyai Pole region. This was "five days before Makhno was outlawed, and shows that the Bolshevik command had a clear view of Makhno's future, even if the latter did not." [Malet, Op. Cit., p. 54]
Unaware of this, the Makhnovista put out propaganda leaflets directed at the Red Army rank and file, appealing to them as comrades. At Aleksandrovsk on December 5th talks occurred between a representative of the Makhnovists and the commander of the 45th division's 1st brigade. These broke down when Makhno was ordered to the Polish front, which the Makhnovists refused. On January 9th, Yegorov, commander of the Red Army southern front, used this pretext to outlaw Makhno. This outlawing was engineered deliberately by the Bolsheviks:
"The author of the order realised at that time there was no real war between the Poles and the Bolsheviks at that time and he also knew that Makhno would not abandon his region .. . . Uborevich [the author] explained that 'an appropriate reaction by Makhno to this order would give us the chance to have accurate grounds for our next steps' . . . [He] concluded: 'The order is a certain political manoeuvre and, at the very least, we expect positive results from Makhno's realisation of this.'" [Palij, Op. Cit., p. 210]
In addition, war with Poland did not break out until the end of April, over three months later.
Needless to say, the Makhnovists did realise the political motivations behind the order. As Arshinov notes, "[s]ending the insurrectionary army to the Polish front meant removing from the Ukraine the main nerve centre of the revolutionary insurrection. This was precisely what the Bolsheviks wanted: they would then be absolute masters of the rebellious region, and the Makhnovists were perfectly aware of this." Moreover, the Makhnovists considered the move "physically impossible" as "half the men, the entire staff and the commander himself were in hospital with typhus." [Op. Cit., p. 163]
This was the signal for nine months of bitter fighting between the Red Army and the Makhnovists. Military events in this period are confused, with the Red Army claiming victory again and again, only for the Makhnovists to appear somewhere else. Hulyai Pole changed hands on a couple of occasions. The Bolsheviks did not use local troops in this campaign, due to fear of fraternisation. In addition, they used "new tactics," and "attacked not only Makhno's partisans, but also the villages and towns in which the population was sympathetic toward Makhno. They shot ordinary soldiers as well as their commanders, destroying their houses, confiscating their properties and persecuting their families. Moreover the Bolsheviks conducted mass arrests of innocent peasants who were suspected of collaborating in some way with the partisans. It is impossible to determine the casualties involved." They also set up "Committees of the Poor" as part of the Bolshevik administrative apparatus, which acted as "informers helping the Bolshevik secret police in its persecution of the partisans, their families and supporters, even to the extent of hunting down and executing wounded partisans." [Palij, Op. Cit., pp. 212-3]
In addition to this suffering, the Bolshevik decision to attack Makhno rather than push into the Crimea was also to prolong the civil war by nine more months. The Whites re-organised themselves under General Wrangel, who began a limited offensive in June. Indeed, the Bolshevik "policy of terror and exploitation turned almost all segments of Ukrainian society against the Bolsheviks, substantially strengthened the Makhno movement, and consequently facilitated the advance of the reorganised anti-Bolshevik force of General Wrangel from the Crimea into South Ukraine, the Makhno region." [Palij, Op. Cit., p. 214]
It was widely believed on the White side that Makhno was ready to co-operate with them and, desperate for men, Wrangel decided to appeal to the Makhnovists for an alliance. Their response was simple and direct, they decided to immediately execute his delegate and publish both his letter and a response in the Makhnovist paper "The Road to Freedom." [Malet, Op. Cit., p. 60] Of course, this did not stop the Bolsheviks later claiming such an alliance existed!
Ironically enough, at a general assembly of insurgents, it was decided that "the destruction of Wrangel" would "eliminate a threat to the revolution" and so free "all of Russia" from "the counter-revolutionary barrage." The mass of workers and peasants "urgently needed an end to all those wars" and so they proposed "to the Communists that hostilities between them and the Makhnovists be suspended in order that they might wipe out Wrangel. In July and August, 1920, telegrams to this effect were sent to Moscow and Kharkov." There was no reply and the Bolsheviks "continued their war against the Makhnovists, and they also continued their previous campaign of lies and calumnies against them." [Arshinov, Op. Cit., p. 176]
In July and August the Makhnovists went on the offensive, raiding the Bolsheviks in three provinces and attacking the Red Army infrastructure. Wrangel began another offensive in September, driving the Red Army back again and again and threatening the Makhnovist area. Faced with Wrangel's success, the Bolsheviks started to rethink their position on Makhno, although on the 24th of September the Bolshevik commander-in-chief Kamenev was still declaring the need for "the final liquidation of the Makhno band." [Malet, Op. Cit., p. 62] A few days later, the Bolsheviks changed their mind and negotiations began.
So, by October 1920, the success of the Wrangel offensive was again forcing the Bolsheviks and Makhnovists to put aside their differences and take on the common enemy. A deal was reached and on October 2nd, Frunze, the new Red Army commander of the Southern Front, ordered a cessation of hostilities against the Makhnovists. A statement from the Soviet of the Revolutionary Insurgent Army of the Ukraine (Makhnovists) explained the treaty as necessitated by the White offensive but also representing a victory over the "high-handed communists and commissars" in forcing them to recognise the "free insurrection." [Malet, Op. Cit., p. 64]
The agreement was signed between October 10th and 15th. It consisted of two parts, a Political and a Military agreement (see section H.6.13 for full details). The Political agreement simply gave the Makhnovists and anarchists the rights they should have had according to the Soviet Constitution. The Military agreement resulted in the Makhnovists becoming part of the Red Army, keeping their established internal structure and, significantly, stopped them from accepting into their ranks any Red Army detachments or deserters therefrom. According to Bolshevik sources, "there was never the slightest intention on the Bolshevik side of keeping to the agreement once its military value had passed." [David Footman, Op. Cit., p. 296]
Even before the agreement came into effect, the Makhnovists were fighting alongside the Bolsheviks and between October 4 and 17, Hulyai Pole was retaken by the Aleksandrovsk group, which included 10,000 Makhnovista. On October 22, Aleksandrovsk was taken with 4,000 white prisoners and from then to early November the Makhnovists cut through Wrangel's rear, hoping to cut off his retreat by seizing the Crimean passes. The Whites fought a skilful rearguard which together with the new White fortifications on the peninsula held up the advance. But by the 11th, his hold in the Crimea gone, Wrangel had no choice but to order a general retreat to the ports and an evacuation. Even the Bolsheviks had to acknowledge that the "Makhnovist units fulfilled their military tasks with no less heroism than the Red Army units." [quoted by Malet, Op. Cit., p. 69]
On hearing this success on 16th November, the reaction of the Makhnovista still at Hulyai Pole was cynical but realistic: "It's the end of the agreement. I'll bet you anything that the Bolsheviks will be on us within the week." [quoted by Malet, Op. Cit., p. 70] They were not wrong. Already Frunze, the Red Army commander, had ordered two entire cavalry armies to concentrate near Hulyai Pole at the same time as he ordered the Makhnovist forces to the Caucasus Front! By 24th November Frunze was preparing for the treachery to come, in Order 00149 (which was not sent to the Makhnovist units) saying if they had not departed to the Caucasus front by the 26th "the Red regiments of the front, who have now finished with Wrangel, will start speaking a different language to these Makhnovist youths." [quoted by Malet, Op. Cit., p. 71]
Of course this treachery went right to the top, just before the 26th "deadline" (which Makhno, not having seen the orders, was unaware of), Lenin urged Rakovski, head of the Ukrainian government to "[k]eep a close watch on all anarchists and prepare documents of a criminal nature as soon as possible, on the basis of which charges can be preferred against them." [quoted by Malet, Op. Cit., p. 71] Indeed, it later appeared the treachery had been prepared from at least 14th or 16th November, as prisoners captured later stated they had received undated anti-Makhnovist proclamations on that date. [Malet, Ibid.]
At 3am on the 26th the attacks on the Makhnovists started. Alongside this one of the Makhnovist commanders was lured to a meeting by the Bolsheviks, seized and shot. Some Makhnovist forces managed to break through the encircling Bolsheviks but only after taking heavy losses -- of the 2,000-4,000 cavalry at Simferopol, only 250 escaped. By the 1st December, Rakovsi reported the imminent demise of the Makhnovists to the Kharkiv soviet only to have to eat his words when Makhno routed the 42nd division on the 6th, retaking Hulyai Pole and 6,000 prisoners, of whom 2,000 joined his forces. [Malet, Op. Cit., p. 72] Simultaneously with the attack on the Makhnovists, the Bolsheviks rounded up all known anarchists in the Ukraine (many of whom were in Kharkiv waiting for a legally organised Nabat conference to begin).
In the resulting struggle between the two forces, as Palij notes, the "support of the population was a significant advantage to Makhno, for they supplied the partisans with needed material, including horses and food, while the Red troops operated among a foreign and hostile people." The Bolsheviks found that the peasants not only refused to supply them with goods, they also refused to answer their questions or, at best, gave answers which were vague and confusing. "In contrast to the Bolsheviks, Makhno partisans received detailed, accurate information from the population at all times." [Palij, Op. Cit., pp. 236-7]
Frunze brought in extra forces and ordered both the "annihilation of the Makhnovists" and total disarming of the region. Plagued by desertions, it was also ordered that all Makhnovist prisoners were to be shot, to discourage the local population and Red Army soldiers thinking of joining them. There is also evidence of unrest in the Azov fleet, with acts of sabotage being carried out by sailors to prevent their weapons being used against the Makhnovists. [Malet, Op. Cit., p. 73] While it was common practice for the Bolsheviks to shoot all Makhnovist prisoners, the "existence of roundup detachments at the end of 1920, whose task was to re-collect prisoners freed by the Makhnovists" shows that the Makhnovists did not reciprocate in kind. [Malet Op. Cit., p. 129]
At the end of 1920, the Makhnovists had ten to fifteen thousand troops and the "growing strength of the Makhno army and its successes caused serious concern in the Bolshevik regime, so it was decided to increase the number of troops opposing Makhno." [Palij, Op. Cit., p. 237] All the pressure exerted by the Bolsheviks was paying off. Although Makhno repeatedly broke through numerous mass encirclements and picked up deserters from the Red Army, his forces were being eroded by the far greater numbers employed against them. In addition, "the Red command worked out new plans to fight Makhno by stationing whole regiments, primarily cavalry, in the occupied villages, to terrorise the peasants and prevent them from supporting Makhno. . . Also the Cheka punitive units were constantly trailing the partisans, executing Makhno's sympathisers and the partisans' families." [Palij, Op. Cit., p. 238] In spite of the difficult conditions, Makhno was still able to attract some Red Army soldiers and even whole units to his side. For example, "when the partisans were fighting Budenny's Fourth Cavalry Division, their First Brigade, commanded by Maslak, joined Makhno." [Palij, Op. Cit., p. 239]
Makhno was forced to leave his home areas of operations and flee east, then west again. By early January his forces had fought 24 battles in 24 days. This pattern continued throughout March and April into May. In June, the Bolsheviks changed their strategy to one of predicting where Makhno was heading and garrisoning troops in that area. In one battle on 15 June, Frunze himself was almost captured. Despite this, the insurgents were very weak and their peasant base was exhausted by years of war and civil war. In the most sympathetic areas, Red Army troops were garrisoned on the peasants. Thus Palij:
"[T]hrough combat losses, hardship, and sickness, the number of Makhno partisans was diminishing and they were cut off from their main sources of recruits and supplies. The Ukrainian peasants were tried of the endless terror caused by successive occupation of village after village by the Red troops and the Cheka. The continuous fighting and requisitions were leaving the peasants with little food and horses for the partisans. They could not live in a state of permanent revolution. Moreover, there was extreme drought and consequently a bad harvest in Ukraine, especially in the region of the Makhno movement." [Op. Cit., pp. 240-1]
The state terrorism and the summer drought caused Makhno to give up the struggle in mid-August and instead fight his way to the Dniester with the last of his forces and cross into Romania on August 26. Some of his forces which stayed behind were still active for a short time. In November 1921 the Cheka seized 20 machine guns and 2,833 rifles in the new Zaporizhya province alone.
For more details of the history of the movement, Michael Malet's Nestor Makhno in the Russian Revolution is an excellent summary. Michael Palij's The Anarchism of Nestor Makhno is also worth consulting, as are the anarchist histories of Voline and Arshinov.
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